Thursday, March 9, 2017

Album Economics: Skeletons From The Closet (The Lost Door)

The cover of Skeletons From The Closet-The Best of The Grateful Dead, released in February of 1974 on Warner Brothers Records. It is the best-selling Grateful Dead album ever, having certified sales of over 3 million units (Triple Platinum)
Ask anyone--what was the best selling Grateful Dead album of the 1970s? Some may argue for the persistence of Workingman's Dead or American Beauty over the immediate popularity of 1971's Grateful Dead (aka "Skull And Roses"), but it doesn't matter, because none of those were it. The best selling Grateful Dead album was a February, 1974 release on Warner Brothers Records called Skeletons From The Closet-The Best of The Grateful Dead. The album went Triple Platinum, which means that 3 million units were sold. Even In The Dark only went Double Platinum, so Skeletons seems to be the best selling Grateful Dead album of all time. I am not concerned with the final tally, however, notwithstanding I have no reason to believe record company assertions in any case. Rather, I am interested in focusing on the forgotten fact that Skeletons From The Closet was the introduction to the Grateful Dead for a legion of suburban young people who very well may have forgotten it.


The Eagles-Their Greatest Hits (1971-75), released in February 1976 on Asylum Records. It is the best-selling ablum of the 20th century. As of 2009, the RIAA had certified sales of 29 million copies, only behind Thriller. The album didn't even include "Hotel California," which hadn't yet been recorded. The members of The Eagles were not happy it was released, and had no input.
"Best Of" Albums
In the universe of the 1960s music industry, artists didn't have much leverage. One way in which artists were beholden was that they had no direct control of the repackaging of previously released material. If a band had put out a couple of albums and then changed labels, for example, their old label would put together a "new" album of their best known songs as a "Greatest Hits" or "Best Of" (if they had no hits). The "Best Of" album inevitably competed with any newly released material, thus punishing artists for changing labels. 

Even into the 1970s, the Best Of album still had a lot of leverage for record companies. While records-only retailers like Tower Records, Sam Goody's and others were opening stores in major markets, and while hip college towns and downtown neighborhoods had sophisticated independent record stores, the majority of albums were still sold in department stores and the like. They would have a few hundred pop albums, mostly current hits, rather than the thousands of albums at a place like Tower. Particularly out in the suburbs, younger rock music fans had to take what they could find at the music departments of stores like Macy's or Payless. If you liked a group, and a Best Of was the only available album at the store, buying the record was often your only choice.

Truth be told, back in the early '70s, buying a Best Of album might have been your best choice, too. Information about rock albums was surprisingly hard to come by, unless you lived in some college town, read Rolling Stone every week and made a study of it (not that I am referring to anyone in particular). For example, if you somehow heard some Canned Heat on the local FM station and got intrigued, you might not have had a lot of choices at your local JC Penney's record section. If it was 1973, should you buy their current album, One More River To Cross, or Canned Heat Cookbook: The Best Of Canned Heat? Typically, those might be your only two choices, It's easy to say that you should have wanted 1967's Boogie With Canned Heat or 1968's Living The Blues, but you might never see those albums without moving to the big city. The fact was, Canned Heat had changed labels, and One More River To Cross was their first album on Atlantic, and it was pretty weak. All the good stuff was on Liberty, so you were better off with Canned Heat Cookbook.

Wake Of The Flood, released October 1973 on Grateful Dead Records. It was the band's first release, and the current album when Skeletons was released several months later
State Of Play, Grateful Dead 1973
Let's set the stage. In mid-1972, the Grateful Dead were coming to the end of their Warner Brothers contract. The Dead had released three successful albums in a row, and Warners were interested in re-signing them. Columbia (CBS) was also interested, as label head Clive Davis had always been a fan of Jerry Garcia and the Dead. The Dead were an increasingly popular touring act, which meant that any new albums would not be solely dependent on radio airplay for success, although in fact Dead songs like "Uncle John's Band" and "Truckin'" got pretty good airplay on many FM stations. With two major labels bidding for them, the Dead were in a pretty powerful position. Of course, being the Grateful Dead, they chose instead to eschew any major labels and go completely independent. Warner Brothers was stunned, and not happy, either.

The Grateful Dead closed out their obligation to Warners with the triple-live release of Europe '72 in November of 1972, and the peculiar archival release The History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol 1 (Bear's Choice) in March 1973, assembled and produced by Owsley "Bear" Stanley. The strange Bear's Choice album was seemingly designed to insure that any momentum from Europe '72 and incessant touring would not accrue to Warners, since only the most devoted of Deadheads would buy the album. This, too, was par for the course in the early 70s record industry. If a band was leaving a label and owed an album, you just delivered some relatively uncommercial music to spite your old company.

Warners may have thought that there was a last-second chance to re-sign the Dead, but it was not to be. The Grateful Dead released Wake Of The Flood on their own label in October, 1973. Wake wasn't a bad album, and it had some pretty good songs, but the biggest problem for Grateful Dead Records was distribution. The entire subject is too hard to get into here, but the essence of it was that rock fans were mostly young teenagers in the suburbs, and when they went to their local Macy's or Payless, they were going to buy something that was available in the record store. If it wasn't a Grateful Dead album, it might be Shootout At The Fantasy Factory (by Traffic), Close To The Edge (by The Yes) or Brothers And Sisters (by the Allman Brothers) because that's what was in the store. It was all well and good for teenagers in Greenwich Village, Berkeley or Palo Alto to have their own wide, snobby choices, but that was a relatively rare privilege. Most teenage rock fans bought the best available album at whatever time Mom drove them to the store. That was how albums went Gold, and Warners excelled at making sure their albums were in every imaginable outlet, through WEA, their mighty distribution arm.

The back cover of Skeletons From The Closet
Skeletons From The Closet-Grateful Dead (Warner Brothers Records, February 1974)
The Grateful Dead don't really talk about Skeletons From The Closet, but the truth was that they participated in its production. There isn't any doubt, as house engineers Betty Cantor and Bill Wolf were credited as editors. That means that Warner Brothers allowed the Dead to put the album together, subject to Warners' approval of course. This, too, was a common arrangement. Given that Warners was going to put out some kind of Best Of The Grateful Dead album, it made sense to give the Dead at least a little input into the album itself. The hidden hammer was that Warners could spite the band by putting out a bad album, and the Dead would lose out on the potential royalties. There was actually a lot of money riding on the album, and the Dead were sensible enough to participate.

I'm not aware of any interview with Betty about the subject, but it's not hard to figure out the parameters of her participation:

Choose the songs, subject to Warners approval
  • This meant that popular FM songs like "Truckin'," "Uncle John's Band," "Sugar Magnolia," "Casey Jones" and "Friend Of The Devil" were mandatory, or Warners would reject the album. Within reason, the other songs were probably Betty's choice. I have no idea if she consulted with band members
Sequence the album
  • Note that the album is not in time order. "Golden Road" is first, but "Friend Of The Devil" is last.
Possibly some technical input, though not remixing. 
  • Betty may have had some say about making sure the volume levels for each track were in sync, but it appears that nothing was remixed, as it would be too expensive, and arguably inappropriate (since buyers would have wanted the original sound of each track).
If you think about the song choices for the album, Betty's hand can be seen. It's all well and good to say "how could you reduce the nine Grateful Dead albums (with 13 lps) to a single album?" But that is what the 70s record industry did, because it was good business. All of the released material (and actually, the unreleased material) was controlled by the record company. Betty Cantor, on behalf of the Dead, could participate or let some stranger do it. So clearly, the Dead at least wanted their own spoon stirring the pot.

While the five songs mentioned were clearly mandatory, the rest were not. Length had to be a factor, so a 23-minute "Dark Star" was out of the question, however important we think it was. It is plain that the goal was to have a broader spectrum of shorter songs that gave some idea of the Grateful Dead's range, beyond the basic appeal of their "hits." Here is the track list:
  • The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Kreutzmann/McKernan)
  • Truckin' (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Hunter) [from American Beauty]
  • Rosemary (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Sugar Magnolia (Weir/Hunter) [from American Beauty]
  • St. Stephen (Garcia/Lesh/Hunter) [from Aoxomoxoa]
  • Uncle John's Band (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Casey Jones (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Mexicali Blues (Weir/Barlow) [from Ace]
  • Turn On Your Love Light (Malone / Scott) [from The Big Ball]
  • One More Saturday Night (Weir) [from Europe '72]
  • Friend Of The Devil (Garcia/Dawson/Hunter)
A few details stand out: 
  • Only Betty Cantor, and perhaps Bob Matthews, would have included "Rosemary" (from Aoxomoxoa) on a Best Of The Grateful Dead album. It's not a bad song, but most Deadheads, myself included, do not recall the melody or the lyrics. Bob and Betty were the engineers on the original recording.
  • The studio "St Stephen" was shorter than the Live/Dead version, even if it wasn't as good
  • The track list includes writing credits for all the existing band members, save Keith and Donna Godchaux, who had none on Warner Brothers. Kreutzmann and Lesh would have got royalties from "The Golden Road" and (in Lesh's case) from "Truckin'" and "St. Stephen." For what turned out to be a triple platinum album, this was no small thing
  • Including a song from Ace insured a writing credit for John Barlow
  • Mickey Hart was not a working member of the Grateful Dead in 1973, so he got no writing credits. Granted, there were few choices, but note that Barlow and Kreutzmann got credits 
  • There were no tracks from Anthem Of The Sun or Grateful Dead {Skull & Roses}
  • The album was sequenced like a mini-concert, with a "Lovelight" rave-up and a "One More Saturday Night" encore, and a soothing "Friend Of The Devil" finale. The point of this was to make the album fun to listen to, since an LP could hardly be put on Shuffle.
John Van Hamersveld's poster for the November 10-11, 1967 concert at Los Angeles' Shrine Expo, featuring Buffalo Springfield/Grateful Dead/Blue Cheer
Cover Art: John Van Hamersveld
Another non-trivial factor in the success of Skeletons From The Closet was the front and back cover art, by poster artist John Van Hamersveld. Album covers were far more influential in selling records back in the 1970s. For one thing, the album needed to catch your eye in the store. For another, albums are big, and people in your dorm room could see what you had. An album with a cool cover was often a talking point, but an anxious teenager would feel that an album with a dumb cover made you look like a dweeb. Many "Best Of" albums, while full of good music, had cheap text or bad pictures on the cover, and they weren't appealing to teenagers who thought that albums were a form of self-expression. But Skeletons had a clever, appropriate cover, the kind that would have been in contention even if the Dead had been picking the cover. It was no accident.

John Van Hamersveld was a legendary psychedelic poster artist. Among many other things, Van Hamersheld had made the iconic movie poster for the 1964 surfing movie Endless Summer, and famous album covers like Magical Mystery Tour and Jefferson Airplane's Crown Of Creation. He had also made the wonderful posters for concerts at the Shrine Exposition Center in Los Angeles in 1967 and 1968. He even made one for the Grateful Dead/Buffalo Springfield concerts on November 10-11, 1967 (above). So although Van Hamersveld had been contracted by Warners, he was the sort of artist the Dead would have hired themselves. The front and back covers are excellent, and they insured that Skeletons looked cool in any dorm room record collection, no small thing in 1974.

The Big Ball, a double lp album from Warners featuring 30 different artists, including the Grateful Dead
The Big Ball-Warner Brothers Records (1970)
The one edited track on Skeletons was a shortened version of "Turn Your Lovelight," from Live/Dead, reduced to 6:30 from the 15:30 minute version on the original album. Whether or not you thought an edit was sacrilegious--I thought so at the time--it was a necessity in order to fit onto the album. What was not widely known was that the edited version of "Lovelight" had already been released in 1970, on an interesting Warner Brothers promotional album called The Big Ball. The Big Ball was actually a pretty creative approach to record promotion, and the edited "Lovelight" probably helped spread the sound of the Dead to people who had never heard them. I myself had owned The Big Ball since 1972, and although I had already known about the Dead, I discovered a lot of acts from that album.

In 1958, Warner Brothers Records had been established as the recorded music division of Warner Brothers Pictures. Studio head Jack Warner was not actually interested in the music business, however, so while Warners released some soundtracks and the like, it was considered the most backwards and least creative of the major record labels. In 1963, Warners merged with the failing Reprise Records, which had been Frank Sinatra's label. More importantly, Reprise head Mo Ostin became President of the new Warner/Reprise Records, and Ostin turned out to be far more important than Sinatra.

Under Mo Ostin, Warner Brothers took steps to catch up with the times. When rock music hit Los Angeles hard, Ostin and Warners dived in. One reason that Warners VP Joe Smith could sign the untamed, anti-commercial Grateful Dead in 1966 to Warners was that the label was desperately trying to be hip. Signing the coolest, most anti-establishment band from the hippest rock city was designed to give Warner Brothers industry credibility, not sell records. Warners made a similar move at the end of 1967 when they signed Frank Zappa away from Verve. They even gave Zappa and his manager two labels of their own, Bizarre and Straight. Once again, this was to look cool to other rock bands, rather than a commercial proposition (although in the end it worked out very well for Warners).

By 1970, Warner/Reprise had signed a lot of rock artists, and put out a bunch of records. Some of them were good, and some of them were even successful. Warners, however, like every other label, was pretty much dependent on AM or FM radio to publicize their artists. If records didn't get played, no one heard them. Even when a record was reviewed in Rolling Stone or elsewhere, there was literally no way to hear even one song, unless you heard it on the radio. Every teenage consumer had spent their allowance money on some album by a cool looking band with a great cover, only to hate it from the first note, so we were all cautious about buying albums where we hadn't heard any song at all.

Warner Brothers attempt to break the radio bottleneck was to release a series of double albums that were sold for only $2.00, when a typical double-lp was $5.99 or so. The album had one track by multiple artists on Warner and Reprise, with a little blurb about each one, along with a picture of the album. For a teenage record buyer, this was a very good deal. The first and most famous of these was The Big Ball, released sometime in 1970. I heard the record in 1972, because a friend of my sister's had it, and I got it for one song. However, as a result, I discovered numerous Warners artists, and probably bought albums by them far sooner than I would have otherwise.

The song which caught my attention was from Truckstop, a solo album by Ed Sanders of The Fugs. The song was called "The Iliad," although we called it "Johnny Piss-Off." It would never, ever be played on the radio. Once I got the album, however, I could contemplate the other 29 artists (see the appendix below for the list of tracks). The lp sides were divided thematically: side one was "folk-rock," side 2 was all English bands, side 3 was "singer-songwriters" and side 4 was "freaks." I of course gravitated to side 4. Other than the Sanders track, there were 5 tracks from different artists on Zappa's labels (The GTOs, Captan Beefheart, The Mothers, Pearls Before Swine and Wild Man Fischer) and the shortened version of "Turn On Your Lovelight." In my case, I had already heard the long version, as my sister had Live/Dead, but just as I discovered Captain Beefheart and the Mothers "WPLJ," not to mention "Johnny Piss-off," other fans must have discovered the Dead. Since the track was already edited, Betty Cantor could use it for Skeletons since she wouldn't accrue any additional expenses by having to re-edit.

A framed copy of the RIAA-certified Gold Album for American Beauty

Gold And Platinum
Hundreds of thousands of people saw the Grateful Dead in the 1970s, and even more in the 1980s and 90s. Yet the historical record is skewed by those Grateful Dead fans--Deadheads--who saw the Grateful Dead many times over the decade, and indeed have remained dedicated fans unto this day. I am certainly among that number. Because of the unique scope of Grateful Dead fan devotion and attention, it is commonplace to read an article, blog or discussion group post from someone who first saw the Dead in the 60s and 70s, saw them numerous times thereafter, and paid scrupulous attention each time (this blog is a typical example). In fact, however, the persistent diligence of hardcore Deadheads gives a narrow picture of who actually saw the Dead. Nothing illustrates this more than the fact that Skeletons From The Closet outsold every other Grateful Dead album.

In February of 1974, when Skeletons was released, the rock audience was mostly young. Sure, a few groovy people had been rock fans since the Beatles hit, and maybe they were in their late 20s. But most rock fans were high school and college age. In particular, the booming rock concert market was getting bigger and bigger because more and more people wanted to see popular bands in person. A rational look at the Grateful Dead's touring schedule tells us that outside of San Francisco and Manhattan, the overwhelming number of people who saw the Grateful Dead were seeing them for the first time, or at most the second. 

Of course, we read stories of a group of hippies from Brooklyn--very often Brooklyn, but that is a different topic--who made some pilgrimage to see the Dead in Tennessee or Virginia, but remember, they were the exceptions. It is an odd skew of the Grateful Dead that the outliers, the hardest core of fans, are the ones defining the historical Grateful Dead experience. The truth is, most people who saw the Dead in Madison, WI or the Jai Alai Fronton in Miami had never seen them before. Seeing the Dead was like seeing Dave Mason or Ten Years After when they came to town. It was fun, but rock concerts were a thing you did with your friends or a date. Sure, the Dead toured for so long that many of them may have ended up seeing them again a decade later or something, just as they saw Mason or Alvin  Lee in the 80s.

If people saw a band and liked them, what did they do? They went and bought an album. The Dead had no revered classic like Dark Side Of The Moon or Rumors, so fans were on their own. If you were just planning to buy one album, then why not buy the album with the most songs that you knew? Most Deadheads don't even own Skeletons, and often don't know it exists, and yet it is the best-selling Grateful Dead album of all time. Since it shifted at least 3 million copies, that tells us how many people out there saw a Dead concert or wondered what the fuss was, and grabbed the record.

Skeletons was certified Gold (500,000 units sold) on March 14, 1980. On December 15, 1986 it was certified Platinum (1 million sold), which means it was still selling long before "Touch Of Grey." It was certified Double Platinum (2 Million) on June 27, 1994) and Triple Platinum (January 31, 1995), as many cassette and cd copies must have been sold as well. Note that the last threshold was reached before Jerry Garcia died. RIAA Certifications (Gold, Platinum etc) are notoriously vague, but the sheer volume of record sales means that the album was a huge seller by any marker. Skeletons was the album of choice for casual Grateful Dead fans, and it turns out there were a lot of those. Sure, lots of fans bought Skeletons and then "got on the bus," but they got the album when they were still thinking of the Dead as a regular rock group,

What A Long Strange Trip It's Been, a double-lp compilation of Grateful Dead music released on Warner Brothers in October, 1977
What A Long Strange Trip It's Been-Grateful Dead (Warner Brothers Records, October 1977)
It is often difficult for regular rock fans to grasp the frustration and bitterness with which Classic Rock musicians viewed their former record companies. After all, the company would have signed the band, financed their rise, and made them rich--why all the vitriol? "Best Of" albums bring those old relationships into focus. The Grateful Dead had decided to go independent in Fall of 1972, but had to release the triple-lp Europe 72 and Bear's Choice to exit the deal. They had released Wake Of The Flood in November of 1973 on their own Grateful Dead Records label. The album had done alright, but not great. But the Grateful Dead were working on another album, and they were prepared to tour hard throughout the summer to support it.

Yet come February of 1974, what Grateful Dead album was easiest get? Skeletons From The Closet, because the Warners distribution arm made sure that it was in every department store music section in the country. When the Dead started playing big places in May, expanding their audience in Reno and Montana and Santa Barbara, what album were the newbies most likely to buy? Even when Mars Hotel was released in late June, Warners distribution far outpaced the new, independent Grateful Dead operation. All those great shows in Miami, Springfield and New Haven were selling Skeletons, not Mars Hotel. The Dead's touring was supporting Warner Brothers Records more than Grateful Dead Records.

Even when the Dead signed with Arista Records at the end of 1976, they found themselves up against Warner Brothers again. The Grateful Dead had released Terrapin Station in July of 1977, and toured heavily throughout the year. Once again, Terrapin was popular, but not a huge success. The Dead missed out on Summer touring because of Mickey Hart's auto accident, but they had numerous dates lined up for October and November 1977. And Warner Brothers? They just released another Best Of The Grateful Dead album.

What A Long Strange Trip It's Been was a double-lp released by Warners in October of 1977. This time, nobody from the Grateful Dead seems to have been involved.  The album mostly featured live tracks. There was also a genuine rarity, a re-release of the "Dark Star"/"Born Cross-Eyed" single from 1968. Warners were shrewd, too, about who might be buying the album. Deadheads like me only had to decide if we wanted to buy the album for the rare single, since we had all the albums. The most likely buyers probably already had Skeletons, so save "Truckin" from American Beauty, there were no repeats from Skeletons, making it a nice purchase from that point of view.

WALSTIB didn't have Skeletons numbers, but it still was a fair success. By 2001 it had gone Platinum. It may seem that the Dead should have been happy with the royalties they were going to get from the albums, and they surely were, but it was a decidedly mixed blessing. Record companies were notoriously slow and stingy about remanding any money to acts who had left the label, generally forcing them to sue the company. This was one reason that labels were slow to "certify" Gold and Platinum Best Of albums, because they didn't want to even acknowledge the sales. WALSTIB was certified Gold and Platinum on the same day in 2001, a clear sign that Warners had not been doing the Dead any favors.

So after 1973, the Dead found themselves in competition with their own label. Since Warners distribution was the best in the industry, they could out-do Arista as well as Grateful Dead Records, and it would have been something that rankled. As if that wasn't enough, the Dead, like any group, wanted to name albums or projects after phrases associated with the band name, and Warner Brothers had used two of the best choices. 

Biograph, the 5-lp set of classic and unreleased Bob Dylan music released in 1985. It established the Boxed Set as a viable commercial proposition
Biograph, The CD Revolution and the Afterlife of Skeletons
The late 20th century record industry kept finding new ways to make money, but the artists who made that music were not always included. For a variety of reasons, the Grateful Dead managed to evade some of the record industry trends at the end of the century. Bob Dylan's Biograph, a five-lp set, was released in 1986, and it ushered in the era of the boxed set. The Grateful Dead were rare amongst major 60s bands in not releasing a multi-album set in the early 90s with classic tracks, rarities and live cuts (they released So Many Roads after Garcia died). It was Warners who would have benefited, and the Dead weren't particularly interested.

Similarly, the record industry made a lot of money re-selling everyone their own record collection on compact disc. The Dead were in no hurry to assist Warners in this enterprise, although once again they did so after Garcia's death. It seems to me that the beginning of Two From The Vault and Dick's Picks, which featured music from the Warner Brothers period, indicated a rapprochement between Warners and the Dead. Ultimately, after many mergers, Rhino Records, owned by Warner Music, a successor to Warner Brothers Records, took over the Grateful Dead catalog, and everyone seems to have benefited.

Incredibly, the audience for Grateful Dead music has continued to expand into the 21st century. Downloads, archival cds and newly performed and recorded music have continued to generate millions of dollars in sales every year. Yet the audio cd of Skeletons (released 1990) still has non-zero sales on Amazon, so it has continued to sell over the years, at least to some degree. The sheer volume of released Grateful Dead music, not to mention the extraordinary availability of "unreleased" Dead music, appears to still leave an opening for the new or casual fan to dip their toes in the water, and Skeletons From The Closet yet remains poised to provide that entry point, even if few Deadheads recall that the best-selling Grateful Dead album even exists.

Initial release : February 1974
Warner Bros. W-2764

Single LP compilation of tracks from the Grateful Dead Warner Brothers albums plus one tack from Bob Weir's album Ace.

  • The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Kreutzmann/McKernan)
  • Truckin' (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Hunter)
  • Rosemary (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Sugar Magnolia (Weir/Hunter)
  • St. Stephen (Garcia/Lesh/Hunter)
  • Uncle John's Band (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Casey Jones (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Mexicali Blues (Weir/Barlow)
  • Turn On Your Love Light (Malone / Scott)
  • One More Saturday Night (Weir)
  • Friend Of The Devil (Garcia/Dawson/Hunter)
Credits for the compilation;

  • Editing - Betty Cantor, Bill Wolf
  • Artwork - John Van Hamersveld
  • Art Direction - Bob Seidman
Certification
Date
Gold[4]
March 14, 1980
Platinum[4]
December 15, 1986
Double Platinum[4]
June 27, 1994
Triple Platinum[4]
January 31, 1995


Initial release : 1970
Warner Brothers PRO 358

A Warner Brothers/Reprise double LP loss leader sampler that includes an edited version of Turn On Your Lovelight from Live/Dead. 

Tracks / Musicians 
Side 1
Nice Folks - The Fifth Avenue Band
Red-Eye Express - John Sebastian
This Whole World - The Beach Boys
New Orleans Hopscotch Blues - Geoff & Maria Muldaur
Coming in to Los Angeles - Arlo Guthrie
I Was the Rebel, She Was the Cause - Eric Andersen
Jubilee - Norman Greenbaum
Ivy - Savage Grace

Side 2
Caravan - Van Morrison
Oh Well (Parts 1 & 2) - Fleetwood Mac
Sally Go Round the Roses - The Pentangle
Nothing Is Easy - Jethro Tull
Flying - Small Faces
No Mule's Fool - Family
When I Turn Out the Living Room Light - The Kinks

Side 3
I'm on My Way Home Again - The Everly Brothers
Happy Time - Tim Buckley
Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell
The Loner - Neil Young
Approaching Lavender - Gordon Lightfoot
Mama Told Me Not to Come - Randy Newman
Fire and Rain - James Taylor
Sit Down Old Friend - Dion

Side 4
The Illiad - Ed Sanders
Kansas and the GTO's; The Captain's Fat Theresa Shoes; The Original GTO's - The GTO's
Ella Guru - Captain Beefheart
WPLJ - Mothers Of Invention
The Taster and The Story of the Taster - Wild Man Fischer
Footnote - Pearls Before Swine
Turn On Your Love Light - Grateful Dead

Initial release : October 1977
Warner Bros. 2W-3091

A double LP compilation of music from the Grateful Dead recordings on the Warner Brothers label. 


  • LP 1 - side 1
  • New, New Minglewood Blues (McGannahan Skjellyfetti)
  • Cosmic Charlie (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Truckin' (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Hunter)
  • Black Peter (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Born Cross-Eyed (The Grateful Dead)
  • LP 1 - side 2
  • Ripple (Hunter/Garcia)
  • Doin' That Rag (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Dark Star (Garcia/Hunter)
  • High Time (Garcia/Hunter)
  • New Speedway Boogie (Garcia/Hunter)
  • LP 2 - side 1
  • St. Stephen (Garcia/Lesh/Hunter)
  • Jack Straw (Weir/Hunter)
  • Me and My Uncle (Phillips)
  • Tennessee Jed (Garcia/Hunter)
  • LP 2 - side 2
  • Cumberland Blues (Garcia/Lesh/Hunter)
  • Playing In The Band (Weir/Hart/Hunter)
  • Brown-Eyed Woman (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Ramble On Rose (Garcia/Hunter)

Credits For the compilation;
  • Executive Producer - Paul L. Wexler

  • Art supervision - Paul L. Wexler
  • Art - Rick Griffin
  • Photography - Arthur Stern
  • Additional photo - Ed Perlstein
  • Tape assembly supervision - Paul L. Wexler
  • Tape assembly - Loyd Clifft
  • Engineering - Bob and Betty
  • Mix down - Bob and Betty
  • Honorable mention - Hal Kant, The Phantom Finger Cult and Taper Bob

Certification
Date :Gold, Platinum August 24, 2001




10 comments:

  1. The disowned stepchild of the Dead discography!

    Some of the track selections were the obvious singles, a couple others were just nutty, but I think your attention to the writing credits makes sense.

    It's funny that it was certified Triple Platinum just seven months after going Double Platinum....probably another example of Warners' tricky accounting.

    It's possible the majority of buyers of this album got it not because they'd seen the Dead, or because they didn't have other Dead albums available in their stores, but they were just curious and thought a "best-of" would be a good introductory sampler. (Which is the purpose, after all.)
    As a teen, I bought a bunch of "best-ofs" not because of limited selection (in a big city, I had plenty of album choices), nor because I'd seen the bands (I'd only read about them), but just to hear what those bands sounded like, or to hear their most well-known songs.
    I suspect a lot of buyers of this album fell in that category - they'd vaguely heard of the Dead, had no idea what album they might like, but here's this "best of" to give them an idea, and it even has a couple songs they might know from the radio.

    How many people actually fell for the Dead after hearing this, that's a trickier question - possibly one or two million buyers never looked for another Dead album! Possibly the majority of people who bought the Dead's best-selling album never became fans...you might say this album introduced the Dead to a lot of people who didn't care.
    Then again, that's probably true for lots of albums. Almost by definition, most of the people who bought this over the years weren't big fans (yet), so it addressed a whole different and wider market than an actual Dead album.

    Skeletons in the Closet has a very friendly-looking cover - an early example of the "jolly skeleton" iconography - but Warners took a very different approach with the cover of What A Long Strange Trip It's Been, which was FAR less inviting. I've heard of many people who saw that album and figured the Dead must be some dark heavy metal band!
    And who did the art? None other than Rick Griffin, who'd done the covers for Aoxomoxoa and Wake of the Flood.

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  2. some additional info, all from TCGDD:

    Skeletons From The Closet: The Best Of The Grateful Dead - Grateful Dead (Warner Bros. W 2764) ... On the front cover, the spindle on which the gold record is being played is the raised middle finger of the skeleton's right hand. Also depicted on the front cover are the devil, holding a mannequin arm which is used to play the record, and "Venus". The back cover shows Marlon Brando, Jesus Christ, and the Cisco Kid playing cards. In the background is the Dymaxion automobile that had been developed by Buckminster Fuller. ...

    tracks from SFTC also appear on:

    Armed Forces Radio And Television Service: Station Library P-14511 / P-14512 - var. (Armed Forces Radio And Television Service AFRTS ) The P-14511 side of this AFRTS LP record release contains "One More Saturday Night", "St. Stephen", and "Turn On Your Lovelight" from the "Skeletons From The Closet" album. The P-14512 side contains tracks by Nazareth from their album "Loud 'N' Proud".

    the WALSTIB album was of interest because:

    What A Long Strange Trip It's Been: The Best Of The Grateful Dead - Grateful Dead (Warner Bros. 2W 3091) A two record "best of" release from July, 1977, possibly as late as September, 1977. It includes the pre-release version of the "Dark Star" / "Born Cross-Eyed" single. ... (Note: the handwritten font by Rick Griffin has been copied and become available as ripple.ttf.) ...

    I-) ihor

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  3. Fantastic work and insight, as always...

    Another factor to consider in Skeletons' sales is Columbia House/BMG? For myself and many others in the suburbs, this was the way we rapidly increased our 'beginner' CD collection in the early 90s. I'm pretty sure Skeletons was pushed in every catalog and ended up in many homes the Dead would have never penetrated.

    Lucky for me, when my father saw me listening to this record he immediately busted out his Europe 72 records and pushed me toward "The Grateful Dead Hour" on the radio.

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    1. oh right, record clubs, I forgot all about them. I'm sure they were responsible for a huge amount of sales. A great point.

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    2. Agree, this is a great point.

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  4. I worked for The Wherehouse c 1987-98...Another reason Skeletons sold so well was whenever we had a Warner's Bros sale, that was the Dead CD that would sell for $9.00 -$11.00 bucks. It was always in stock, while other catalogue titles weren't.

    Great article.

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    1. Anon thank you very much for the revealing point. It helps explain why the CD continued to sell. WEA (Warners distribution arm) was mighty indeed, and you have given a textbook answer to how they worked it. When there was a sale, the discounted cds were the ones that would go, and it wouldn't have been Blues For Allah.

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  5. I used to see "Skeletons" in a LOT of 1980's-'90's-era CD jukeboxes.

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